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October 24, 2009

Filed under: travel — Terry Wohlers @ 16:26

The Opera House in Sydney, Australia is one of the most recognized man-made structures in the world. My wife and I got an up-close look at the outside of the Opera House 12 years ago, but tours of the inside were not being conducted the day we were there. I’ve always wanted to see the interior and was given the opportunity last week. The 60-minute guided tour included some history that I found fascinating.

The Sydney Opera House was designed and largely built by Danish architect Jørn Utzon. The project was launched in March 1959 and was scheduled to take three years to build at a cost of $7 million. It ended up costing $102 million and took 16 years to complete. A major problem was the construction of the roof. No one knew exactly how the claim-shell style covering would be built, even though construction of the foundation and other parts of the Opera House had been underway for years.

The design involved some of the earliest work using computer-based structural analysis software. Engineers worked through more than a dozen iterations of the roof design as they tried to find an economically-acceptable method. With Utzon’s help, engineers decided to use ribs to support the complex design. Some may refer to the roof structures as shells, but they are not. Instead, they are precast concrete panels supported by precast ribs. This approach made it possible to cast arches of varying length in a common mold. The Opera House consists of 10 roofs, all formed from a hemisphere and each having the same radius.

If you find yourself in Sydney, plan some time to see the Opera House. And, time it so that you can also see the inside. You won’t regret it.